43 Years of Teaching at AHS
by Becky Lusk
Picture it. Avon, Indiana. 1980.
A young Gary Ayers walks into his first day of teaching at Avon High School, which is now Middle School South. His classroom was the bus garage located about where the fuel islands are now, and he called his attendance in on a landline. The bus mechanics were his collaboration team and support. He recalls his welcome by his new coworkers with bottle rockets whizzing past his make-shift desk. He was tasked with teaching automotive and small engines and for the next four years, that is what he did.
Ayers remembers his time well in those humble beginnings. The high school was small, which gave him the opportunity to know just about everyone, including the students. There was a bit more collaboration across departments than what can possibly occur today. “Back then, Avon High School was very caring. I don’t know how [Mr.] Shockley has done it, but it is still very caring.” Ayers said he probably knows just as many students and teachers this year, just a much smaller percentage. “Now I see someone in the hallway, and I don’t know if they’re a student or a teacher,” says Ayers says with a grin.
Ayers moved on from small engines and taught an urban design and development class.. His students conducted a survey with the residents of Avon prior to incorporation. At that time, they found that 1/3 of the population were life-long residents, 1/3 had lived in Avon less than 10 years and 1/3 had moved to Avon within the last two years. Ayers and his class were surprised at the data from the survey. He was able to get a front row seat to the population boom that makes Avon what it is today.
Back then there was a bit more freedom and Ayers sent a few students to the courthouse. They began mapping Avon showing the new growth. At the time, a board had been formed with the hopes to incorporate Avon as a town. The board used the data Ayers’ class collected to make their case and Avon was incorporated in 1995.
Eventually, Ayers moved into Technical Education, or Tech Ed. Tech Ed has evolved over the years with the advancement of technology, but in the beginning he taught transportation: rockets, planes, cars, energy and power. Long before robotics, Ayers had a hand in starting a solar car racing team. He envisioned the team to be student run and student led. He recalls that sometimes the students would be working on a car and they would say, “That is good enough.” Ayers would remind them that to compete, "...good enough isn’t close enough and close enough isn’t good enough." He said that winning in the competitions has been the icing on the cake. The best for him has been watching the students work hard, problem solve and take on those skills as their own, even if they make a mistake.
Sometimes we learn more from our mistakes than our successes. Gary Ayers
Several years ago a student named Kevin was encouraged by his math teacher to join the solar race team. His teacher told him, “You know the math, now it’s time to get your hands dirty.” Ayers recalls Kevin helped design the body of the car that year and they did very well in the solar car races in Kansas. A few years later, Kevin came back and shared that the courses in high school and Ayers pushing him to do more gave him the confidence to go forth in his career. After graduation, Kevin went to Purdue and joined their solar car racing team, eventually earning an engineering degree and working on the space shuttle. Ayers said, “The fact that he can attribute his high school career for playing a role in his advancement… That’s neat.”
With the evolvement of Tech Ed, Ayers was fearful when Project Lead the Way was introduced. Project Lead the Way is an engineering-based curriculum geared toward higher level students seeking engineering careers. Many school districts dropped tech ed to focus all energies on the new curriculum. However, Avon had the foresight to keep both. Tech Ed is geared toward the average student and is still relevant and instrumental in teaching life skills.
Ayers recalls a student named Lauren who was valedictorian of her class, Instead of opting for a study hall her senior year, she signed up for Ayers class. After the class ended, she told Ayers, “I learned a lot, but I don’t know where I’ll really use it.” Awhile later she tracked Ayers down to tell him that her sister and her husband were in the process of building a house. Lauren joined the walk through and was so excited to know exactly what was going on in the process. “Now she is an informed consumer,” Ayers said proudly. In addition, he has several students that have gone on to work in skilled trade industries because of the classes in the Tech Ed program.
Over the years, Ayers has seen many changes. Buildings and additions, the shuffling of schools and of course, students themselves. Lately, apathy is running rampant. However, he’s found that sometimes it can take years to truly recognize the fruits of your labor as a teacher.
I’ve had students come back years later and apologize for their behavior in class or come back and say, "Hey I was listening, and you made a difference in my life." Sometimes you just never know when something you say or do might resonate. Gary Ayers
After 43 years of teaching, Mr. Gary Ayers does plan to retire after this year. It’s been quite the ride. He’s looking forward to traveling with his wife and father-in-law just enjoying life. “You know, I’ve had students come in and say ‘hey, you taught my dad!’. I figure I better stop before I get to the grandchildren.”
Thank you, Gary Ayers for your years of service and dedication to Avon Community School Corporation. You have made a difference in the lives of students and have paved the way for a new generation of teachers. We appreciate you and wish you the best!